Book Sales Killers – Poor Book Covers And Book Descriptions

Book sales killers

There are two instant book sales killers.

Poor quality book covers and weak book descriptions will always turn away potential book buyers.

Both will either fail to attract attention or, worse, drive potential book buyers away.

When you can get these two elements right, you help your book marketing enormously.

What makes a bad book?

The obvious reason a book fails to sell is that it is a bad book.

There can be a hundred reasons why this is the case.

But the most common problems are that it’s poorly written, with glaring typos, grammatical and spelling errors.

Or it might have a weak first chapter that fails to grab a reader’s attention or interest.

Another possibility is that the book is about a topic or genre that is not popular, such as home blowfly breeding or My Life as a Saab Mechanic – A Memoir.

There is little you can do to save a book that has minimal market appeal.

But if a book is reasonably good, very good, or even fantastic, and it is not selling, the two book sales killers could be causing the lack of sales.

It has an unattractive book cover and a poorly written book description.

The good news is that you can quickly and easily remedy both of these elements.


Great book covers sell books

I see a lot of books, which are perhaps quite good and very well written.

But they suffer from the author’s idea that apart from being a great writer, they are also an excellent book cover designer.

Sadly, this is rarely, if ever, the case.

Unless you are skilled at using Photoshop and have some basic knowledge about design principles and focal points, forget about going to all the trouble of designing an awful cover yourself and get a professional.

A pre-made cover will almost always be better than what you can do yourself. And at between $40-60, they are extremely cheap.

Even a custom-designed cover at around $250 is still good value. It will attract far more attention than a homemade cover.

The other reason to have a professionally designed cover is that the image has to work in many sizes, particularly as a thumbnail image.

This tiny image is the first thing a potential reader comes across as they scan online book retailers for a new book to read.

It is digital marketing 101 to attract attention as quickly as possible.

How your book cover looks as a thumbnail is absolutely vital.

It needs to attract attention in seconds, within a long list of other thumbnail images.


Book cover examples

I won’t embarrass anyone by taking book covers from Amazon to show you as examples.

Instead, I will embarrass myself here by showing you an example of how I learned my lesson.

My first homemade cover was disastrous, and then my second attempt was probably worse.

Finally, I got a professional cover designer to go to work on my book cover.

Here are the three versions of one of my books and how they looked as thumbnails.

Louis by Derek Haines

Louis by Derek Haines

Louis by Derek Haines

Louis by Derek Haines

Louis by Derek Haines

Louis by Derek Haines

Do you see the problems with the first two covers that I designed myself? They were real book sales killers. Okay, you can stop laughing now.

Yes, my author’s name was unreadable in the thumbnail view. The title was hardly much better, while the subtitle disappeared in the second version.

As well as these obvious problems, the first two images are single-layered, dull, uninteresting, and utter failures at attracting attention.

The third cover was, of course, professionally designed and cost me $240.

And yes, the book started selling much better after I had a professionally designed cover.

People could, at least, read the book title and my name.

Of all the marketing materials you can use to promote a book, your book cover is number one. Never take shortcuts or design it on the cheap.


A good book description needs to hook a reader fast

It’s an old truism that authors are particularly dreadful at writing their own bios. You could say the same about book descriptions.

I really do see some terrible attempts when I scan Amazon book descriptions.

The most common problem is that they are far too short as if written as an afterthought, and without much care.

The second is that they fail to give a reader anything of interest or ask them questions.

After the cover, which does its job to attract attention, the book description is there to hook a reader.

You need to try building rapport. Read these two examples of a fiction book description.

“This is a story about a man who is dying and he meets a woman, who he falls in love with. They share their thoughts about life and how they have been wrong about many things.”

It is rather awful. It would probably turn people off the book.

Now, let’s get a copywriter on the job.

“And in the end… he found true love.

Imagine being transferred to a hospice to live out the last days of your life, only to find the love of your life you know you cannot enjoy forever?

This is a story of finding love within boundaries, as the main character is at the end of his life.

What happens when people have come to that place in their lives where to do not regret anymore what they have done or had not, and finally accept life’s true intent of having reached the end?

Find out how an interesting twist so close to the end gives a man a completely new but short purpose in life, something others might never find throughout their whole life?

A story where romance meets drama…  about reflective thoughts…  about finding love at last…”

Do you need any convincing of which book description would attract a reader’s attention and interest?

The second example asks a question, which involves the reader. Then later, it has a call to action.

It also uses short paragraphs to highlight each element.

I purchased this short piece from a copywriter on Fiverr.

A quick search of this site brings up a long list of copywriters who offer their services at a very reasonable price.

It’s worth the time and effort to try and find a copywriter who can help you.

While Fiverr is known for $5 tasks, expect to pay around $30-$40 for a well-written 300-word book description.

That’s still good value for money for fiction book descriptions.



If your book isn’t selling so well, would a $40 pre-made cover and a $30 book description be a good investment?

Definitely. Because they are the two most crucial factors in convincing people to buy your book.

I would always recommend buying a quality book cover.

But if you want to write a book description yourself, keep in mind that you are convincing a reader to buy your book. It’s not a summary of your story.

For non-fiction, such as self-help books, you can use bullet points to list the key elements of your book.

In either case, sell your book in your description.

Don’t take free, cheap, and quick shortcuts that will turn out to be book sales killers.

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

Avatar for Derek Haines

8 thoughts on “Book Sales Killers – Poor Book Covers And Book Descriptions

  • Avatar for Carol
    December 30, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Excellent information Derek, thank-you. As I will be publishing my first novel this year I still need to find a book cover designer – who did your’s it’s brilliant. I had never thought of a copy editor for the blurb though so thanks for the heads up. These are both small but highly important things for any author to remember.

  • Avatar for Maggie
    October 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you for your many helpful articles on writing, though I disagree about your second blurb, only because of the five grammatical errors I immediately stumbled over: I’d assume that the author also did not understand them. “Imagine” would have to be “Can you imagine” to make the sentence a question.
    “where to do not anymore” should be “where they do not any more”.
    “what they have done or had not” should be “what they have or have not done”.
    “others” is plural, so it should be “throughout their whole lives” (not “life”), and that sentence cannot end with a question mark as it isn’t a question.
    Perhaps, as the previous commenter mentioned, a copy editor would be helpful too :) Thanks for giving me a morning puzzle (*trying not to mention your misplaced commas*). Best wishes!

    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      October 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Maggie. Yes, I agree there are errors or changes that could be made to this text. However, as I noted, this text was used as an example, and also that it was purchased on Fiverr, obviously for $5, which is really on the cheap, so hence the result. But I also suggested paying more for a better job.

      The thrust of this post was not perfection, but to highlight the need for some self-published authors to think about improving both their covers and book descriptions, by making a modest investment in hiring people with the appropriate skills.

  • Avatar for John Allan
    October 26, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    The second blurb is vastly better than the first, but that wouldn’t be difficult to achieve. It could be more condensed, it is somewhat stilted … and it needs editing. And that’s the copywriter’s version.

  • Avatar for Juliet
    September 1, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Ok glad it wasnt taken negatively. Most people rely on a book’s description as to whether or not they think it will be an interesting enough read. Making sure you have a tone of interest, perhaps mystery or suspense, will be what draws them in. I’d also include a small set of sentences describig who Louis is, his background, to help readers know if this character will be someone they can either relate to or be drawn in enough to want to know more about his life, past and present. The theme of realizing a true love so close to the end will melt the hearts of romance novel enthusiasts and the fact he was a spy will catch the eye of those who have always yearned for a more excitig life than the ones they presetly lead. I have your blog posts tagged in the Flipboard app so I read your posts regularly.
    Just thought I’d add my two cents, I was previously a magazine editor and syndicated columnist and write for myself- going through frustrations of writer’s lamet at the moment- know my material as good as memorized but just can’t force myself to sit and write. Almost tempted to strap myself to the chair to force it. My editing skills are trying to trump my ability to let the manuscript flow and edit later. Must remember to never expect a perfect first draft! Thanks so much for your reply, hope I helped some, if any!

    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      September 1, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      I believe people buy books in three steps, Juliet. These are no different for printed books in a bookstore, or ebooks online. The first attraction is the cover, so they pick it up. Then they read the blurb, and if they are still interested, they will glance at the first chapter, or thumb through the book, before making a buying decision.

      Nothing much has changed, except that traditional publishers know this, and work very,very hard at the 3 first impressions, offline and online. But many self publishers have a long way to go yet to come to grips with this.

      Anyway, good luck with your writing. :)

  • Avatar for Juliet
    September 1, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    I find a few problems with the paid version of the book blurb. Though agreed it is a better take on the novel’s description, there are repetitive words and ideas that read as if this blurb writer has a stock go-to used for every one he writes. For example, the “Imagine this” scenario as an opening introduction. Why not cut to the chase and state the novel’s description as it is?

    I would have cut the first sentence, first paragraph, and gotten straight to the point without trying so hard to push a vague description and focused more upon the real parts of the novel. Begin with using the lead character’s name and include more story description rather than using bland terms such as “This is a story”- which is repeated several times. We know it is a story.

    “What happens when regrets cease to exist and the will to live must be replaced with acceptance of death?”

    And i would cut out “Find out how an interesting twist so close to the end…”- the words “life” and “lives” are too repetitive.

    Here is a rough draft idea off the top of my head:

    “So near the end of existence, Louis discovers true love while waiting out his final days in hospice.
    He’d assumed death would be the last heartbreaking experience to endure until he met the very reason his heart had kept him alive this long.”

    Hope I didn’t over-step my boundaries by this opinion!!

    Have a great day! Keep writing!

    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      September 1, 2015 at 7:51 pm

      No, no over-step, Juliet. I selected it purely as an example, which could of course be improved. Perhaps I have better if I had hunted further. But I thought it was a reasonable short text to show how asking questions and making a call to action can be included in a book description. A lot of book descriptions I read have neither.

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